World News

Vietnam arrests journalists who reported on graft

HANOI (Reuters) - Police arrested two Vietnamese journalists whose stories of bribery, corruption and gambling in a transport ministry scandal rocked the ruling Communist Party in 2006, their newspapers reported on Tuesday.

The report said the journalists from Tuoi Tre (Youth) and Thanh Nien (Young People) were indicted on Monday for “abuse of power” by spreading “false information” on the scandal that led to the resignation of the transport minister.

A senior police officer, who was an apparent source for the reporters, was also indicted on Monday with “abuse of power”, an online newspaper quoted a police ministry spokesman as saying.

A transport ministry agency that builds roads and bridges with foreign aid has been investigated since 2005 after officials were accused of embezzling state money and using it for lavish lifestyles and betting on European soccer.

The Southeast Asian country of 85 million has opened its economy and foreign policy to the world, but senior officials regularly reaffirm their desire to maintain state control over all media.

The media was encouraged to report on corruption as the government publicly stepped up its campaign to root out graft, which is cited as hampering investment and development.

The arrested reporters Nguyen Van Hai, 33, of Tuoi Tre and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, of Thanh Nien, were among the most prolific on the story of corruption within the agency known as PMU 18.

“I hold that the prosecution and detention of the two journalists of Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre at this time is not normal,” Nguyen Quoc Phong, deputy editor-in-chief of Thanh Nien daily was quoted as saying in Tuoi Tre.

Huy Duc, a longtime Vietnamese journalist, wrote in his blog that the arrests “could easily make the public think that people fighting against corruption are being attacked back” but he added that some officials “used the newspapers as a means to further their own cause” in the investigation or for promotion.

Back in 2006, the transport minister resigned to take responsibility for the scandal. In April, prosecutors exempted his deputy from criminal responsibility.

The former head of the big-budget agency, Project Management Unit 18, was sentenced to 13 years in jail last year for illegal gambling and attempts to cover it up with bribes. Eight other officials, including former police officers and businessmen, have been jailed for their part in the scandal.